Keir Starmer has sacked three Labour MPs for voting against a bill that protects British war criminals. It was the first sign that his new love of patriotism and security means defending Britain’s crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Starmer sacked Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake from their roles as junior shadow ministers after voting against the Overseas Operations Bill on Wednesday.
The bill, tabled by the Tories, is designed to stop soldiers from being prosecuted for torture and killings in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only 18 Labour MPs voted against it.
The bill says that any crimes that took place more than five years ago shouldn’t be prosecuted. It also says prosecutors have to consider the effects of trauma and pressure on soldiers.
The attorney general—who is appointed by the prime minister—would have to give consent before the prosecutions can go ahead.
It comes after two war crimes inquiries uncovered evidence implicating British soldiers in the murder and torture of civilians. Evidence had been found of murders by an SAS soldier and deaths in custody, beatings, torture and sexual abuse of prisoners by members of the Black Watch regiment.
The two inquiries—Operation Northmoor and the Iraq Historic Allegations Team—amassed thousands of statements from British soldiers and witnesses. They also collected vast amounts of documentary evidence.
It includes evidence of the murder of three children, who were shot in close range in the head by an SAS soldier in their home in Afghanistan. It also shows widespread abuse of prisoners in a British army base in the Iraqi city of Basra, which led to at least two deaths in custody.
But none of the cases from either inquiry—both shut down by the Tories in 2017—led to prosecution. And Boris Johnson pledged last year to amend the human rights act to stop prosecutions from going ahead.
Yet Labour’s only criticism of the bill was that it doesn’t do enough to protect British soldiers. Keir Starmer is desperate to show the right that Labour is “patriotic” and supports “British values” by backing the military.
Right wing campaigns—championed by newspapers such as The Sun—demanded that politicians protect soldiers against prosecutions by “activist lawyers.”
Tory veterans minister Johnny Mercer—who tabled the bill—said MPs should vote for it to “demonstrate support for our armed forces.”
Starmer ordered MPs to abstain in a vote on Wednesday, which most did happily—effectively allowing the bill to pass.
The three junior shadow ministers were punished to demonstrate that Starmer is out to bury the anti-war politics of previous left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn.
In a speech on Tuesday, Starmer insisted Labour “love our country” and the “value” of “security for our nation.”
He hopes this can win right wing votes and prove that Labour will be “responsible” in charge of the British state.
And that means siding with torturers and killers against the victims of Britain’s wars.